An online research community is a technological platform that enables you to engage in a continuous conversation with your customers. It allows you to seamlessly conduct qualitative and quantitative research on one platform.
Not familiar with online research communities? Check out our article about 6 Benefits of Using an Online Research Community.
When working with advanced technological tools like online research communities, it’s important to remember the human side of your research. The heart of your community is its people. They will stay engaged if you keep them informed, send them interesting and exclusive content, and entertain them.
So, how can you ensure the health of your online research community?
1. Clearly define your initial strategic plan and objectives
Clearly defining your objectives and strategic plan is crucial for the success of your community: they will form the roadmap for where your community will go and help you to ensure that it stays on track over time. Both should be communicated within your organization so that everyone is on the same page. Inevitably, different departments will have different requests for the community, and your objectives will help you decide whether the requests can be accommodated or are out of scope. Clearly defined objectives will also help you ensure that the content you provide your members with is consistent and cohesive across the entire platform (whether they’re filling out surveys, writing in their journal, or interacting with each other in a forum). While your objectives may change over time, your overall vision will help you make the right strategic decisions.
2. Assign a project manager (central point of contact)
Assign a project manager as the central point of contact responsible for the community and clearly communicate their role internally. This person’s responsibilities will be to:
- Ensure that the objectives are being met.
- Ensure that communications within the community are consistent.
- Be familiar with all posted content, to ensure that questions and activities are not duplicated across the platform (which can hurt participation levels).
- Maintain balance between the various activities available on the platform to ensure members stay engaged.
3. Vary the types of activities over time: don’t just stick to surveys!
One of the main benefits of an online research community is the various activities that members can participate in on the platform (quantitative surveys, online focus groups, forums, journals, challenges, etc.). Having members participate in different activities helps prevent boredom and motivates them to keep coming back to the community to see what’s new. To ensure your community stays engaged, take advantage of the different tools it offers that best suit your objectives. Some of the richest qualitative data can come from forums (where members can interact with you and each other) and the journal feature (which allows them to share their thoughts with you privately). In our experience, the best strategy for keeping members engaged is to limit the number of questions per activity and be creative!
4. Communicate the rules and expectations of the community to members
From the beginning, make sure that your community members know the rules for participating in your community, what is expected of them, and the consequences of non-compliance with the rules.
These rules should be easily accessible for all community members: we recommend using a clearly defined page in the community, a link at the bottom of the community page, or including them on the registration page when a member joins the community.
We also recommend providing a place for private feedback so that your community does not turn into a complaint bureau. Let members know how they can communicate with the community manager if they have a concern and provide clear information about how to do so (for example, an email address or a specific place in the journal module, where comments are only visible to the community managers).
5. Give feedback and share your successes!
Finally, what better way to motivate your community members and project partners than sharing good news? Tell both groups about the concrete positive actions that were taken, based on the ideas received and data gathered from the community. Closing the loop with your community members and telling them how your organization has used their feedback to drive positive change is an excellent way to build trust and engagement. You could share the information on the News page of the platform or through a newsletter!
Are you interested in learning more about online research communities?
Don’t hesitate to contact us! We would be happy to provide you with more information based on your unique organizational needs.